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Feb 212013

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Deep automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1 will greatly affect the Pentagon’s civilian workforce, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.

Appearing at a briefing with Pentagon Chief Financial Officer Robert Hale, Panetta said that virtually all of the department’s 800,000 civilian employees will be furloughed starting in late April if sequester goes through in just over a week.

Panetta has been leading the charge against the first in the series of spending cuts to pare down the deficit, saying they will drastically undermine the effectiveness of the nation’s security.

Hale was quick to add that the civilians would not be laid off, at least not during this fiscal year ending Sept. 30.  However, he could not promise that the layoffs known as reductions in force (RIFs) won’t take place after then if the sequester is allowed to continue without congressional action to stop it.

As of now, the plan is to furlough civilian employees at least one day a week beginning in late April — a reduction in payroll of about $5 billion.  In all, the Pentagon faces $46 billion in spending reductions by Sept. 30.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Feb 112013

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) — A year and a half after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell the Pentagon is extending many benefits to the same-sex partners of military service members that, until now, had only been available to heterosexual couples.

However, access to health care and some housing allowances available to spouses will remain unavailable because the Defense of Marriage Act defines a marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In a statement announcing the move, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country.”

“The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated,” he said. “Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.”

At the time that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented in 2011, same sex partners became eligible for 20 member-designated benefits. These included being listed as beneficiaries of the Service member Group Life Insurance policy, the death gratuity, and being allowed hospital visitation rights.

However, gay advocacy groups campaigned for a further extension of almost 100 additional benefits to same-sex partners.

In a memo released Monday, Panetta extended 22 new benefits to service members and military retirees with same-sex partners.  The additional benefits include the issuing of new military identification cards that will allow partners access to military commissaries, military exchanges and access to child care.

To be eligible for these benefits, service members and their same sex-partners will have to file a “declaration of domestic partnership.” The form will enable same-sex couples to gain access to the benefits in the 41 states where gay marriage is not legal.

An additional 85 benefits such as access to on-base housing and burial at Arlington National Cemetery were not offered Monday, even though they are not precluded by the Defense of Marriage Act.  In his memo, Panetta said making those changes, “presents complex legal and policy challenges due to their nexus to statutorily-prohibited benefits and due to ongoing reviews about how best to provide scarce resources.”

Later this year the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  In his memo Panetta said that if the court says the law is no longer applicable, then the Pentagon will be able to extend full military benefits to same-sex couples.

Panetta’s memo directs the military services to have a system in place to accept the benefits Aug. 31, and that no benefits be rolled out later than October.

Senior defense officials who briefed reporters on the benefits extension said they would likely impact about 5,600 same-sex couples with an active-duty service member, 3,400 with the National Guard or Reserves, and 8,000 military retirees.

Gay advocacy groups praised the changes instituted by Panetta, but still called for full benefits that could only be provided if the Defense of Marriage Act were to be repealed or ruled unconstitutional.

“We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality — steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families,” said Allyson Robinson the Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jan 032013

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) — One person who breathed a particularly huge sigh of relief after Tuesday’s congressional compromise on the fiscal cliff was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

He had already braced the Pentagon to be ready for a series of deep budget cuts known as sequestration that would total around $500 billion over 10 years.  However, the bill passed by the House and Senate puts those spending reductions on hold for at least two months.

Panetta, who plans on retiring soon, issued a statement Wednesday expressing gratitude to lawmakers from both parties for putting a temporary halt to sequestration, adding, “Hopefully, this will allow additional time to develop a balanced deficit reduction plan that would permanently prevent these arbitrary cuts.”

For the past year, since Congress approved the budget cuts to help bring down the nation’s debt, Panetta has been on a campaign to get members of Congress to change their minds on sequestration, saying it “would have a devastating impact on the department.”

Panetta acknowledged that he “would have been required to send out a notice to our 800,000 civilian employees that they could be subject to furlough” if the fiscal cliff compromise had not been reached.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Dec 052012

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon has started to plan for the half-trillion dollars in automatic cuts over the next decade that it could face as part of the “fiscal cliff” that would start in the new year.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had provided guidance that the Pentagon should conduct “internal planning” for sequestration cuts, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Wednesday.

Sequestration is the term used to describe the automatic defense budget cuts totaling about $500 billion over the next 10 years that would be triggered in early January. The sequestration cuts were agreed to as part of last year’s debt ceiling agreement that resulted in the Budget Control Act.  It is one component of the coming “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax increases that would be triggered in 2013 that has dominated the political debate in Washington since the presidential election.

For most of the year, Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that they would not plan for potential sequestration cuts because they hoped it would just be done away with by the Congress. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been vocal about what he has called the “devastating” impact of the automatic cuts if they were triggered. He once referred to it as a “goofy, meat-axe approach” to reducing spending.

Eventually, any resolution of the pending sequestration cuts were delayed until after the presidential election. Now, with the deadline looming, the Pentagon has been authorized to look at what programs might be cut.

“We don’t want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning,” said Little.

A preliminary review began earlier this week to determine what would be impacted by cuts that will trim 9.4 percent from Defense Department programs, Little said. The review will prevent implementing sequestration in “an absurd way” within the Pentagon, he added.

The estimated $500 billion in cuts over the next decade would be in addition to the administration’s already planned cut of $487 billion over the next decade that it said was guided by a strategic review.  Fifty-five billion dollars in defense cuts would be triggered in 2013.

On July 31, the Obama administration issued a memo announcing that military personnel payroll costs would not be affected by sequestration cuts.  At the time, it acknowledged, “it is recognized that this action would increase the sequester in other defense programs,” namely in civilian personnel costs and weapons programs.

Little said he was activating a public affairs task force that would help communicate to the DOD’s 3 million military and civilian employees about the latest updates on any potential cuts.

Though sequestration could begin on Jan. 3, 2013, Little said, its impact would not be felt immediately on the workforce. The Pentagon would have a phased-in approach to the cuts that would likely be implemented in the months after that date should no deal be reached to avoid sequestration.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Nov 282012

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Pentagon on behalf of four women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan but feel stifled “by a policy that does not grant them the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts.”

Specifically, the servicewomen argue that the Defense Department’s combat exclusion policy prevents them from achieving the same leadership roles as men.

In one instance, according to the ACLU, Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air National Guard search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, was shot down while rescuing three injured soldiers in Afghanistan and was forced to exchange fire with the enemy.

Although Hegar was awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, she maintains she was kept from seeking other responsibilities due to the Pentagon’s policy against women in ground combat.

Meanwhile, two of the plaintiffs led Marine Corps “female engagement teams” in Afghanistan and the fourth plaintiff, while in the Army, was sent on similar missions, accompanying combat troops in Afghanistan.

However, the ACLU says because the missions were temporary duties, they were not officially recognized by their services.

According to the ACLU, women make up 14 percent of the armed forces, with 1.4 million now actively serving.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio